The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

What Every Campus President and Campus HR Leader Needs to Know about HR

Have you seen the recent BloombergBusinessWeek post written by Liz Ryan? I recently shared this post with the CUPA-HR board of directors and it created a great buzz. A couple of “brave” board members even admitted to sharing the post with their presidents and challenging their presidents to hold them accountable for the 10 “things your HR head should be doing now.”

Here are the 10 items that Liz shares with my adaptations for higher education:


1. Collaborating  to design and communicate a vision for the college or university.

Think about what this means for a higher ed HR professional. So often we relegate ourselves to roles that are secondary or that are created IN RESPONSE TO the institution’s vision. HR should be intentionally engaging with other campus leaders to create the institution’s vision. Just as important, we should fully embrace our role as communicators of the vision. We have to be able to share this vision in language that our current and future employees can understand and connect to.


2. Selling your college or university to the “talent population.”

I was at conference a few weeks ago and someone in the room commented that her college is losing people because her institution’s salaries are not competitive with private industry. My immediate thought was that she needs to get busy developing a plan to do a better job of communicating all the reasons why her institution is a great place to work. Yes, our salaries are typically not competitive with private industry, but the “talent population” is not necessarily looking for the highest salary with a cut throat entity that might not be around a few years from now. We should be working with our campus marketing and communications professionals to develop expansive marketing and communications resources to help us emphasize  why working on our campus can be a great, rewarding, life-long  endeavor. These resources should be dedicated to recruitment of new talent AND to the retention of key talent.


3. Teaching all employees to tell the truth at work.

Get rid of those employees who are constantly creating controversy or unnecessary drama. Reward and acknowledge those employees who speak the truth in respectful, collegial and collaborative ways.


4. Reinforcing a culture that emphasizes ingenuity.

Each higher education institution is unique. Campus leaders should encourage employees to try new and different things that help emphasize the unique culture and perspective of the institution.


5. Building a pipeline of qualified, energized people to fuel the institution’s growth.

We have to make succession planning a core part of our DNA. A huge wave of retirements is upon us. Who is being prepared to assume future leadership roles? [Note to self: the future leadership roles needed for my institution might not be the exact leadership roles in place today.][Second note to self: the traditional pipeline that has worked in the past is not necessarily the pipeline that will work next year.]


6. Shifting the HR function away from a break/fix model (“Benefits question? Second door on the left.”) to an embedded function in your business units.

Most of us spend the majority of our time in this break/fix model. Our top priority should be to minimize (or outsource) this work. The institution needs for us to be engaged in much more important work!


7. Installing just enough HR process to meet your college or university’s regulatory compliance needs but not so much that people are stymied or treated like children.

Regulatory compliance is often a pain in the patooty. Our goal should always be that we NOT make a mountain out of a mole hill.


8. Building a culture of collaboration.

We have to be the champion for our employees. Employees have to know that we are advocating on their behalf. In addition, HR is uniquely positioned at the crossroads of almost every department on campus. How can it NOT be our role to build a culture of collaboration that emphasizes the elimination of silly departmental barriers and fiefdoms?


9. Asking your employees every day for their input…including their careers, and life in general.

An annual “employee engagement survey” doesn’t cut it. We have to be engaged with and genuinely interested in our employees every single day.


10. Replacing fear with trust at every opportunity.

Lack of communication creates lack of trust and also fear. When we fail to communicate (or fail to communicate often enough), our employees fill in the blanks. Every day should be framed by open, honest dialog that demonstrates to our employees that they can trust us. This doesn’t mean that we stop being managers and leaders, but it does mean that we establish a reputation for being open, honest and fair.


In my opinion, this list of 10 is just a starting point. What would you add? Is there one of these 10 that you think is the most important mindset change for higher ed HR professionals and/or the Presidents of higher ed institutions?